Posted by: steveonfilm | October 22, 2012

Managing Space in Your Screenplay

One of things that new writers like myself don’t always think about is how we’re relating physical space in our screenplay to the reader. What I mean by this is how you present the actual physical space our characters operate in for a given scene or sequence.

Most of the time what side of the room a shelf is on won’t matter. You don’t need to say it’s on the left or right of a character. Simply saying “Bob crosses the room and places the picture on a shelf” is sufficient. But sometimes this won’t cut it, especially if there is an obstacle of some sort of importance in the way. Maybe Bob has to step over a dead body. Maybe Bob is retracing another character’s steps. Maybe Bob has to avoid stepping on a very specific piece of floorboard so it doesn’t creak and wake up a person asleep in a chair that doesn’t know he’s broken in. Anyway, you get my point.

One of the challenges I’ve run into with my current project is explaining space. I’ve caught several instances on my pages that were confusing for even me to follow. And if I can’t follow it, God help a reader. Obviously, this is a problem that I’ll need to address.

I’ve read two scripts recently by professionals that both had issues with how space was explained in a specific scene. The rest of the script was fine, but in each of them there was one scene that made me pause and reread because I was confused about who did what, and where they did it. Any time a reader has to pause and reread something is bad.

One thing I’ve found helpful is actually diagraming out a scene or location on paper. This way I’m clear that I understand the space the characters are moving in. If a scene is going to be complicated, figure out a way in the first lines of description to easily lay everything out. Keep note of the scene, and when you come back to polish your script, walk through the scene step by step and retrace your lines of action. Diagram out what you’ve actually written. Compare it to your original diagram. Do the characters move on the second diagram the way they moved in your first one? If they don’t, rewrite. Keep doing this sort of thing until everything maps out perfectly.

Take whatever amount of pages you need to write your scene clearly. If you end up with a ten page scene, really consider whether this scene is something that absolutely needs to play out the way you wrote it. Can you condense it? Can you simplify it? Is there an easier way for this scene to play out? Take a critical eye to how you write this type of stuff.

Writing a scene where space is important can easily separate the amateurs from the pros. If you’re sloppy or lazy when writing about space it will show. A reader won’t miss it. They want a reason to take a pass on your script. Don’t let this sort of thing be that reason.

Keep writing,

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